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There is no permanent cure for canker sores; therefore, treatment is for discomfort or pain. Over-the-counter topical medications (such as numbing agents or protective ointments) and antimicrobial (germ-fighting) mouth rinses may offer temporary relief. Avoid hot, spicy or acidic foods and beverages that can irritate the sore. Treatment for an attack involves corticosteroids, Prednisone-like medications that control troublesome lymphocytes. The medication may be in a topical form (applied to the skin), or systemic (taken as a tablet or capsule).
Canker sores appear on the tissues lining the mouth. There is no exact known cause for canker sores, so current treatments are all palliative. Using a topical agent with a mild anesthetic, like Orajel or Anbesol, will help decrease the pain of the sore, but will not decrease the time the sore is present. Gently wiping the sore in its early stages to expose the center to saliva may decrease the length of the ulcer by a few days. Usually a canker sore lasts for 7-10 days.
Excessive canker sores can often be caused by a gastrointestinal illness or an autoimmune disease. In this video, Dr. Oz guest Dr. Linda Lee discusses how she treats severe canker sores.
There are several over-the-counter (OTC) products available to help manage mild cases of RAS. Some cover the ulcers, providing protection while they heal; others numb the area temporarily. Prescription options include topical steroids, in gels or rinses, by injection and/or systemic (through the body) medications. The goals of treatment are to decrease severity of pain, frequency and duration of the ulcers and to promote healing more quickly.
Mouth sores should be taken seriously. You should seek dental or medical evaluation if:
- A mouth ulcer or sore has not healed within 2 weeks
- There is an increase in the severity, frequency or duration of the condition
- You are never without a mouth sore
Ulcers or sores that do not heal properly may need to be biopsied, which involves taking a small sample of tissue to be viewed under a microscope, to rule out underlying medical conditions like skin disease, precancer and/or cancer. Other tests including blood tests may also be needed to make a proper diagnosis.
Canker sores usually go away in one to two weeks with no treatment. If your canker sore is painful, here are some tips to try:
- Stay away from spicy foods, acidic foods, and hot foods and beverages to avoid irritating the mouth.
- Avoid eating food like rough crackers or chips that can scrape your mouth ulcer or mouth tissue.
- Hold an ice cube to the canker sore to get pain relief.
- Try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain-relieving gel for mouth soreness or tooth pain.
- Take an OTC analgesic (ibuprofen, acetaminophen) for relief of pain.
- Call your healthcare provider and ask about prescription medications that can dry up the canker sore.
Most of the time, treatment for canker sores is not needed. But for large, painful sores, some over-the-counter pastes, like Orajel or Anbesol can help relieve the pain. Sometimes your doctor may prescribe a mouth rinse that has an anti-inflammatory medicine in it to help reduce the pain and inflammation.
Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.